In what has to be the biggest blockbuster franchise since Twilight and Harry Potter, in this sequel to the first Hunger Games film (see my April 8, 2012 review–“The Hunger Games”–Our “Harry Potter”), the post-apocalyptic Panem is still a hell on earth. Former victors are forced to participate in a Quarter Quell, marking the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games.
Survival through fake social relationships which the victors all know will end in death is still the tense spine of the narrative. In “Catching Fire” the means to survival grows darker and more intense. Explicit scenes of Katniss in flashback (to the murders she had to commit and to the death of the little girl Rue) are riveting, with stellar acting by Jennifer Lawrence once again, the camera steadily zooming in on her eyes for emotional response. All game “victors” have been radically changed: Katniss is cynical and guilt-ridden; Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is even more of an alcoholic, and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is numb. “Nobody ever wins the Games,” declares Haymitch and “Catching Fire”, true to Suzanne Collins’ book, underscores that sentiment in the final scenes.
All the performances are spectacular including the over-the-top Elizabeth Banks (Effie), Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz. Donald Sutherland’s sinister character becomes even more ominous as President Snow, the smarmy ruler who has to destroy his nemesis, Katniss Everdeen, whom we never get tired of watching. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright are new additions who provide dramatic surprises.
Sequels are notorious for being a disappointment but this series…so far…belongs in the same category as “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”. It just seems to get better and better!